Lights, Vernon Gray, Other Odds, Ends

COMMENT

November 27, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

A while back, I wrote with skepticism about Howard County General Hospital's plan to put on an elaborate light show for the holidays at Symphony Woods. My fear at the time was that this event might end up being a tacky extravaganza that would detract from the elegance of Symphony Woods. My hope has always been that this downtown Columbia park would be better utilized, but also protected.

Well, now that the hospital's display is up and running, I would like to report that I have seen the light. Symphony Lights, that is -- an elaborate drive-through display of animated and stationary lights that is a 20-minute, eye-popping, extraordinary affair.

With toy soldiers shooting exploding cannonballs, swans gliding on a lake, ice-fishing penguins, candy canes and gingerbread houses, Symphony Lights reminds me most of my own childhood, when my parents would take me into downtown Washington at Christmas to see the animated displays in the big department store windows. But it is bigger -- my kids would say more awesome -- than that.

Hospital spokespeople aren't saying how many lights are involved, because patrons are being asked to guess the number. Let's just say that neighbor of yours who likes to outdo everyone when he decorates his house each year has met his match.

It is expensive. The hospital is charging $12 per car and $50 per bus at the gate on Broken Land Parkway. But $2 discounts are being offered at the hospital's gift shop, the Mall in Columbia and Rave Reviews Consignment Shop in the Hickory Ridge Village Center. But load up the car and enjoy this one. The proceeds will go to benefit the hospital's maternal child-care program.

*

On the political front, I was somewhat alarmed to hear that County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray may be considering leaving the council soon. Mr. Gray, who was active in Governor-elect Parris Glendening's campaign and is a member of the transition team, is rumored to be in line for an appointed position in state government.

Because Mr. Gray was just re-elected to his fourth term, my first reaction was to wonder whether his constituents would feel cheated if he to depart. On reflection, however, I think Mr. Gray should pursue higher office now, while he has the opportunity. It would ultimately give him greater prominence and give the county an ally in high places. Also, who could really blame him?

He chose not to run for the county executive's seat this year, a position he has made no bones about aspiring to. And there is no guarantee that in four years he will be in a better position to seek that office.

With the Republicans assuming a majority on the council next year, Mr. Gray will for the first time be subjected to the indignity of minority status, where he had previously wielded so much power.

*

Elsewhere in the county, the Board of Education last week approved new policies on how teachers and administrators can be transferred to other schools.

The policies, which mostly amount to restrictions placed on the superintendent in how he can manage his staff, are aimed at quelling a two-year-old controversy that occurred after 60 teachers and administrators were transferred to other schools in the same year.

The new rules require school officials to tell an administrator of an impending transfer by March 15 of the previous year, which would give the administrator a chance to transfer voluntarily. Parents and community members would be notified of the transfer 30 days before the end of the school year.

Principals are now required to tell teachers of an impending change by Feb. 15 of the previous year, with the notification being done in private and reasons given in writing. Teachers would also be allowed to transfer voluntarily.

I certainly understand the need to handle transfers humanely, and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey did act harshly when he conducted his mass transfers in 1992. But I can't help but think that the county's teachers union has once again come out on top on this one, and it's to the detriment of the system as a whole.

A nagging, almost insurmountable problem in public education is the strangle-hold of unions on the system. Bad teachers are too often accorded the same protection that should be reserved for those who deserve it. Administrators are discouraged from even attempting to build cases against incompetent personnel. The same is true for unprotected senior staffers who supervise unionized administrators.

It is one of those problems that, if it is not resolved, could mean that school reform is never going to occur. Of course, personnel should be told that they are being transferred as soon as possible and given the reasons why. But this policy, like others, is likely to discourage officials from initiating transfers for fear that, no matter how warranted, a protracted challenge will ensue.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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